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Cirque du Monde in Mexico City: breathing new life into action for young people in difcult situations



line Mercier Jacinthe Rivard, Guy Bourgeault and Ce

with local community organisations that are already working with young people in difcult 1 The Cirque du Monde (CdM) is an international situations through culture and the arts (Cirque social action programme offering workshops in du Soleil, 1997). The orientation and approaches developed by CdM over circus skills to young people more than 10 years of in difcult situations. The Jacinthe Rivard received her PhD in work with these young programme was set up Applied Human Sciences from the Unipeople justify using it as through a bold partnership versity of Montreal. Her research focuses an example of a stakebetween two institutions on young people in difcult situations holder in an emerging both founded in Quebec, the from an international, transversal (through different countries) and transalternative trend and, innow-famous private comdisciplinary perspective and seeks to foster deed, a future paradigm pany Cirque du Soleil and thinking on how to understand the pheshift (Bemak, 1996; Ennew Jeunesse du Monde, a nonnomenon. She published articles on this and Swart-Kruger 2003; governmental organisation subject in 2004 and 2007 and others are Rivard, 1999). (NGO) for international coforthcoming. Email: jacinthe.rivard@umontreal.ca. This hypothesis has operation. These two initiaGuy Bourgeault, University of Montreal, given rise to a doctoral tors were later joined by has interests in the philosophy of educathesis (Rivard, 2007) in other international NGOs tion, social intervention and health and which three aspects made and community organisaresearches into questions and ethical the paradigm functional: tions and also by local and issues of professional, institutional and rstly, the representations political practices in the eld of education, national governments, unisocial intervention and intervention in the of young people current in versities and private compaeld of health. the collective imagination nies, which together form Email: guy.bourgeault@umontreal.ca of circus; secondly, the an innovative partnership line Mercier is full professor at the Ce theoretical and ideological that takes various forms Department of Social and Preventive underpinning of action unMedicine of the University of Montreal (Dagenais et al., 1999; Defouand head of research and teaching at the dertaken for these young ni, 2002; Rohmer, 2003) and Gabrielle-Major, Lisette-Dupras and people and its orientation; works with young people in West Montreal Readaptation Centres for thirdly, the activity of the many countries. The propeople with learning disabilities. She circus skills programme as gramme is active in over 50 cience heads the research team of the De both generator of a new locations across ve conti partnerintellectuelle et intersectorialite ship and is senior consultant to World image of young people and nents, reecting the internaHealth Organization Collaborating Cenas a dynamic project for tional nature of the ter for Research, Consultation and Trainthe transformation of the vulnerability in which some ing at the Douglas Mental Health young people involved and young people live. In each University Institute the society of which they location the programme advEmail: cmercier.crld@ssss.gouv.qc.ca are a part. ocates close collaboration


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Jacinthe Rivard, Guy Bourgeault and Celine Mercier

For the thesis, two sites of CdM activity were examined, in the Atikamekw Nation in Haute Mauricie (Rivard, 2007) and in Mexico City. The present article focuses on CdMs work in Mexico City. Our aim is to consider how far the global can be seen in the local and how observing the specicities of the Mexico city project can open the way to understanding key ideas that transcend this one location and which, while not generalisable, are still universal. Our hypothesis is that the Mexico City circus project can shed light on the predicted paradigm shift. The analysis of this shift proposed here is based on Hannah Arendts thesis of human activity in modern societies, which she set out 50 years ago in The human condition ([1958] 1983). In this book Arendt identies three fundamental human activities: labour, work and action. Labour includes all hard labour and physical work carried out in a disciplined way and requiring submission to external directives. Work involves initiative and creativity on the part of those who carry it out and are proud of it, although it is sometimes foreign to them. Lastly action requires the actor to be fully engaged, seeks and gives rise to the transformation of individuals and the collectivity through the connections it creates between them.

young participants the chance to experience the (re)construction of their personal identity, in a fun and festive atmosphere, which can also affect the way that other members of the society see and relate to them. Returning to the three aspects of the paradigm mentioned above, CdM creates representations of vulnerable young people that show them as subjects and actors of their own lives and as citizens participating in the life of the society with everyone else (Rivard, 2004, 2007). Essentially transmitted via the oral tradition, the theoretical and ideological bases coincide implicitly in writing, explicitly in the eld with socio-constructivist and ecological theories of complexity and others related to circular thinking and with the teaching methods based on them, themselves also alternative, which consider individuals as inseparable from their world and social milieu, and as able to orientate their lives in connection with others. Lastly circus action at once expresses and fuels the rst two dimensions. It is the experience of this action in Mexico City that we are seeking to understand and reveal in this article.

A single case study analysed in two sub-units (Yin, 1993, 2003), CdMs project in Mexico City was the object of intensive immersion over 2 months late in the year 2000. The researchers period in the eld coincided with the visit from the circus instructor, who at that time was sent out once a year by the CdM programme. Various methods of information collection were used, notably participatory observation and interviews (Table 1). The iterative approach to the gathering and analysis of the data was taken from the broad stages of Miles and Hubermans mixed approach (2003). At the ethical level, the standards in force and consensual framework adopted in Mexico City by both the partner n organisation, the Centro Juvenil de Promocio Integral (CEJUV) and CdM as part of Cirque du Soleil were respected. The project was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the University of Montreal. The Mexico City project like that of the Atikamekw Nation was chosen because of its capacity, as a particular instance of a general

CdM: stakeholder in an emerging alternative trend

The idea of using circus skills with young people street children as they were then known rst appeared in Brazil in 1994 at the conuence of projects undertaken in the North and South, and drawing on various sources of inspiration, including international cooperation, partnerships and social and educational action aimed at empowering young people by recognising their resilience and regarding them as actors and citizens. Currents of thought in Latin America, such as Freirism and Boalism, were a major inuence. Without seeking to separate young people from their environment and real living conditions (Cirque du Soleil, 2003), CdM invites them to take part in workshops that enable them to experience the magic of circus and to become familiar with its basic skills and concomitant values and demands. These workshops thus give

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A circus in action for young people in difcult situations


Table 1. Sources of the corpus Source Documentation Participatory observation Semi-directed interviews Group meeting

Description Websites, press releases, press articles, etc. Circus workshops and other related activities; 50 periods (lasting 1 hour to 1 day) Eight recorded interviews in the presence of a research assistant Presentation of preliminary data and analyses to actors from the partner organisation (CEJUV) Personal notes of the researcher and research assistant.

model (Dagenais et al., 1999), to reveal through the circus workshops the three aspects of the paradigm described above. In other words it constituted the starting point for a movement from the local to the global (Dufour et al., 1991; Hamel, 1989; Yin, 1993), an illustration of the concentration of the global in the local (Dufour et al., 1991, p.68), in this case the concentration of the CdM programme in Mexico City. In other words, the Mexico City project enables us to examine the programme. More precisely, the data from the Mexico City project are analysed here to reveal the impact of the CdM programme, which is able to provide an empirical basis for theoretical knowledge.

CdMs Mexico City project

CdM has a strong presence in Latin America. The programme is now based in almost 25 Latin American locations. It has been active in Mexico City since 1999 through its local partner, the CEJUV, a not-for-prot organisation working in the only barrio (neighbourhood) that offers the appropriate conditions to children and young people who suffer a range of problems in their daily lives. Weekly or twice-weekly circus workshops are run in three barrios: Ciudad Lago, Tlanetziye and Las Aguilas, of which only one is held in appropriate conditions, in this case a large room similar to a gym. The age of the participants varies between 10 and 19. The workshops were made possible by networking with the local facilities or youth community centres known as Centros Juveniles de Barrios,

set up by the CEJUV from 1982. Three coaches (monitores)2 from the partner organisation, one for each neighbourhood, are responsible for developing the content of workshops and ensuring that they run properly; one of them is also the overall project coordinator. All three have experience of social intervention through performance arts, including story-telling, theatre and clowning. The basic equipment is lent by CdM and support for having items remade or for making new items is provided, particularly when the instructor visits. Very early in the partnership the circus workshop team of the CEJUV wanted to give their project its own identity, calling it Machincuepa, Circo Social. Machincuepa is a term taken from the huatl3 language signifying the bodys overall Na contribution to circus skills. The aim of Machincuepa is to integrate social circus skills teaching into the CEJUVs strategies oriented to promoting the reduction and prevention of danger to vulnerable young people in urban neighbourhoods (CEJUV, 2004). The project receives nancial support from Pueblito Canada, an international development agency already active in Mexico City and which was present at the rst meeting between the CdM representatives and the CEJUV. Supplementary nancial and material resources are provided through other agreements with various organisations. In addition to the young participants from the three barrios, two other groups also benet from the circus work. One is the coaches themselves, who are sometimes accompanied by other invited social workers. There is also a group of students from the Instituto Salesiano de Estudios Superiores (n.d.), who work as volunteers on Saturdays for an NGO helping young people in the streets. One worker from this NGO maintains close contact with the Machincuepa team, with the result these young people are made aware of CdMs4 activities through her constant, if informal, involvement. Although Mexico is no longer classied among the developing countries,5 the accounts the researcher gathered from individuals suggest that the reality of young Mexicans in difcult situations reects the increasing instability of life across Latin America. In Mexico City alone there are said to be over 50 organisations working with young people on the streets ninos de la calle.

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According to one interviewee, danger is a way of life for the children targeted by the CEJUV. Each barrio in which the circus is involved has its own types of risk: Las Aguilas is constantly threatened by landslides; Tlanetziye is associated with criminal gangs, violence and drugs; while Ciudad Lago, which is next to the Benito Juarez international airport, is constantly assailed by the noise of low-ying aircraft. In Mexico young people in difcult situations, particularly children and young people in the street situation suffer from negative social representations that they are immature, itinerants, have no future and are untrustworthy (free translations throughout). These descriptions were familiar to the people the researcher met and were conrmed by certain n Pro Nin texts (Fundacio os de la Calle, 2000; Serrano, 2005). The circus, too, is perceived in ways that are sometimes less than glowing. Despite their rich tradition in Mexicos history (Serrano, 2005), for many, circus is synonymous with buffoonery, a conception perpetuated by the young people who parody circus skills for a few coins in the avenues of the megalopolis, lying on broken glass, juggling or sometimes simply painting their noses red. For its connoisseurs however, circus and its arts are a subject of interest, curiosity and fascination, which soon seduce both young people and potential coaches. In fact, as one instructor puts it, In Mexico people either love the circus or despise it. The implementation of the programme in the barrios of Mexico City does not always run smoothly. There are daily problems. These stem from tension between the projects aims and the technical demands of the circus, the need for the coaches to learn quickly and to pass on what they have learned almost immediately and the need for endless fundraising to pay salaries. But the power of the idea and the circus-based model fuels the leaders enthusiasm, inventiveness and tenacity in nding solutions to such an extent that Machincuepa has been running for 10 years with the same three coaches.

In Arendts vision, and still more the context of CdM, labour, work and action cannot be seen as three heterogeneous activities. Instead they form a triptych enabling us to highlight three different registers of circus action.

Circus arts: work of the body through discipline

Labour is tangible and omnipresent in circus workshops. Its simple forms include the labour of those who teach circus arts to young people and the labour of including those young people. For the coaches this is salaried labour, a living, which is not immune to the tensions around the relationship between money and commitment. Two of the coaches work part time while the coordinator is full time. For the young people the demands of circus skills impose on them an unfamiliar discipline that, paradoxically, lacks the relationship to money that prevails almost everywhere else in their lives. The young people labour because they become caught up in the pleasure of play and in an activity that takes them out of themselves while also making them more powerful. For everyone the bodily labour of the workshops is about learning through fun, through games and indeed, through taking risks, which they deal with in a safe, reassuring context. Three interrelated elements seem to be particularly signicant here: the importance given to process; the meaning given to the labour required; and safety, emphasised in many different ways in the project.

The actors agree that it is not the result that matters but the path taken to get there. The process includes all the major and minor stories behind the various successes, the time spent on mastering a skill or doing it better. In the view of one of the coaches, A youth may never manage to juggle with three balls, but along the way he will have experienced tolerance, perseverance and concentration. He goes on to say that imagination, an awareness of ones own limits and sometimes physical bravery can emerge from this learning process. In the circus context the body is gradually tamed; participants must learn how to love it and how to move it. The

As indicated above, the data on Machincuepas activity have been analysed according to Hannah Arendts categories (1983), interpreted freely here.

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body also labours; it moves, is moved, surpasses itself, becomes tired, amazed, excited, rests, relaxes then tenses up once more. So here the learning is part of an induction process in which the body experiments then reveals the meaning of its experiment.

Labour in the context of circus workshops includes an element of risk that brings in the dimension of safety. There are risks of injury to the body and often to the ego which require constant vigilance expressed through a calm attentiveness. Initially manifested in physical warm-ups and the requirement to wear safe, comfortable clothes, this attentiveness is maintained and integrated into all activities until the circus workshop ends. In this way the workshops involve the labour of learning the safety requirements, which all must do and all share, from learning how to move in a way that will avoid injury to understanding the individuals responsibilities towards others. Of course this concern with safety is also required to preserve the image of the CdM programme and, by extension, of Cirque du Soleil. Process, meaningful labour and safety all require discipline, rigour and the observance of rules, which manifest themselves in different ways, if only in the need to turn up at the right time and on the right day for the workshop. Also, to ensure their safety, the young people must be in an appropriate state to take part and must be prepared to respect the venue by not consuming psychotropic drugs on the premises. These rules are constraints; the workshops reveal them to be the conditions and requirements of freedom. The above is also true for the coaches and instructors, who are at once passing on and learning circus skills and the teaching skills associated with them, a task whose scale was amply apparent in the observation. For these individuals the circus means giving young people the opportunity to work on their personal development in a group and to use their potential to make positive contributions. This is clearly illustrated by one of the coaches who explains how it is possible for young people to move from prostitution to the bodily work of circus and how pickpockets can take up the subtle manipulation of circus equipment and swap the risks of their trade for that of tightrope walking. Circus gives these young people an opportunity to use their potential in the service of others.

The labour observed in the workshops and described in one way or another by all the actors encountered has a meaning that is explicit and positive, passed on by the instructor to the coaches and by the coaches to the young people. You have to communicate information by making the idea and tone very clear, and back it up with love, explains an instructor during a training workshop for the coaches. The pyramid exercise is an oft-cited example. The base is formed by the most robust participants, whose task is to support the rest of the construction. The human components in the centre place their knees, hands and feet on the backs of their companions at points identied by the coach. They move as little as possible to prevent pain and injury and, crucially, keep listening to those below them: Careful Im getting crushed! and the coachs instructions: put your foot lower down. At the top goes the smallest, and thus the lightest individual, who is often the only one whose arms are free, usually extended in a pose of triumph. This exercise is full of meaning. The instructors know this and the coaches quickly catch on. Each pyramid looks like Everest. It expresses different degrees of awareness, including self-control and concern for others, in which the notion parer6 goes beyond gymnastic competence to include the need for others to make the pyramid, a feeling of individual and shared success and a physical experience paradoxically combining pleasure and risk, constraint and freedom, pain and concern for others. The pyramid may not be completed today and will most probably end in collapse and hysterical laughter. But it is the repeated construction of pyramids and other exercises that, sometimes gradually, sometimes instantly,7 but usually through time, perseverance and a great deal of pleasure, foster a fully integrated awareness of the meaning inherent in the training.

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Circus performance as a work

The work is the nished product. It is the result of working, of labour and creation. For most people questioned, one characteristic of circus arts is to permit the achievement of concrete results in a relatively short time. As we have seen, for these young people the essence of the training lies in the process. But this process is punctuated by small triumphs and necessarily leads to results. The work is an important motivating factor for the actors involved. Each performance in the circus programme, however humble it may be, can be seen as nished work in itself, which is offered for others to see and marks the end of something, such as a series of workshops or an instructors visit. The performance reveals the labour of the young people and the other actors associated with the production of a work which is in a way greater than them and will outlive them, if only through photographs or an article in the local paper. Every day each circus workshop thus also becomes a nished work in itself, as the place where many creations come to fruition, the manifestation of the everyday labour and efforts of its participants. Each meeting with the coach is a chance to create something immortal, to remember how a boy who has succeeded in juggling ve balls was applauded or a quest to reproduce a trick on the monocycle. Accomplishing the work means giving concrete form to labour. For one individual this may mean learning to juggle with several scarves in a few hours, for another it means learning to use the devil sticks8 after attending one, two or three workshops. However, in the rst instance what the work proves is that circus and young people in difcult situations are a winning combination. On this all are agreed. In Mexico City the most striking work was almost certainly the Primer encuentro de circo social9 event. The coaches regard this as their most ambitious creation. It reects the distance travelled by both young people and coaches, by the Machincuepa project and even the CEJUV. Lasting three days, it began with a gathering of the various actors linked to the programme, active or not, to share techniques and theories (Day 1). In the second phase the young

participants from the three barrios were invited to meet each other and swap ideas about their circus practices (Day 2). The high spot of the event consisted of a performance by each group from the three neighbourhoods, accompanied by their respective coaches, before an invited audience (Day 3). The three days were punctuated by mini-performances, mostly pre-planned, some spontaneous, in which the young people and adults watched each other with admiration, albeit for different reasons. This event, bursting with creativity and joyful work, culminated in a show for the general public, in which selfcondence was combined with the awareness of risk. To paraphrase an instructor, The circus works when the magic works. The coaches and instructors are both the creators and privileged observers of countless works that will continue to live after them, from the most minor to the most impressive. Such are the joys of the profession of coach and guide, the pleasure of work well done, and also passing on a passion for circus.

The action of circus: rallying and transforming lives

Those on the ground say that circus rallying, federative, as Hotier (2003) suggests in his work on the true nature of circus. Those involved in the project in Mexico City believe that it has unsuspected effects on families. Circus can certainly have a favourable effect on relationships between young people and adults because circus action makes people connect. This action makes links. For example, through the Primer encuentro de circo social that has created connections between the Mexico City barrios where Machincuepa is active, just as an alliance has developed between South African townships where CdM is present, as described by an instructor. Links have also been developed with the students of the Instituto Salesiano de Estudios Superiores and, by extension, with the young people who are among the hardest to reach. To this we can add the regional and international meetings set up by the CdM programme. And then the stories told by the instructors build bridges, however virtual, between these young people and those of

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other cities, countries and continents. Thus, in Mexico City most interviewees and even some of the young people had heard about the inclusion of rap in the regular activities of the St-Michel quarter of Montreal, the distinctive gymnastic abilities of Mongolian girls and the attraction of the circus for young Africans in prison. Those involved in the Atikamekw project have clearly said that through CdM they feel less isolated and their young people no longer feel they are the only ones facing difculties. As work and a source of meaning through the labour it represents, social circuss interaction with young people generates an emotional investment in all the activities undertaken in the name of young people in difcult situations and circus arts. Let us imagine for a moment the instructor inviting the audience to experience circus on the third day of the Primer encuentro de circo social in Mexico City. The audience includes a dignitary from the Canadian embassy, his wife and children, the parents of the young participants, representatives from other organisations working with young people, current and potential sponsors, senior managers of the CEJUV, friends and colleagues. Leaving their personal effects and shoes behind for a moment, these people all nd themselves in a space together, undifferentiated. They are a little tense at rst, but that soon passes and the smiles break out, to be followed by laughter accompanied by a contagious curiosity and enthusiasm. At this moment the instructors power, his potential to deliver his knowledge and the circus energy he radiates, acquire their full signicance through the training he has dispensed. At this moment circus proves that it speaks to all, young and old, ordinary and important, men and women, professional or not, athletic or not. The only obvious requirements are a willingness to move and the ability to make others move because you cant do circus alone. CdMs action is fundamentally grounded in its teaching, whose application is as fundamental as it is complex. But those questioned stress that this is an alternative form of teaching, partly because of circus per se, its unusual nature and the elements of society involved, and also because this teaching differs from dominant approaches and is not institutionalised. Moreover, one CEJUV worker notes that CdM does

not dene its teaching methods. An instructor explains that there is an initial denition of the method and his work is to pursue it: Theres no denition of teaching methods. Well, theres the beginnings of a denition. My job is to work on it. And to do it collectively. The teaching methods of CdM, as observed on the ground in Mexico City, relate initially to skills in passing on circus arts to different groups of people. Instructors communicates their passion to the coaches, with all that this implies in relation to circus, its individual and social dimensions, its mechanisms, ardour and rigour. The coaches receive all this, are amazed, experiment, have fun, discover, analyse and exchange ideas before going on to share their own knowledge with the young people. In turn, the young people are invited to assist the coaches if they would like to, and even to participate in their training if they are interested. The alternative aspect is again apparent here in this alternation of knowledge transmission. It is said that in this circus some students surpass the teacher. And so the alternation forms a loop, in an atmosphere of egalitarianism. This type of teaching is also alternative in inviting participants to be responsible. So, as one of the interviewees told us, responsibility for the circus proposal10 is linked to a more personal responsibility. To learn more about circus skills, he explains, you have to have the necessary physical tness, which means rst of all awareness, then putting it into practice with the appropriate physical training, which in this case also involves a process over time. Lastly, this teaching is described as alternative because it breaks with the traditional schemas, giving space to creativity and often also incorporating other arts along the way. We cite as an example an exercise that we observed while participating in it, which required the young people to form a circle and look at each other, imagining themselves rst as warriors winning a battle and then as warriors losing it, sending emotions of victory and defeat around the group, simply with their eyes. Once again all this also affects the coaches. Aside from the personal benets they mentioned on many occasions body awareness, tness, the challenges of teaching and learning, the possibility of developing skills quickly several of them mention the impact of circus on their

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own ideas about young people and how to approach them. Some describe how the circus project ties in with their personal aspiration to link the arts to social work and the work of the body to that of the emotions. It is, says a CEJUV manager, an innovatory alternative, its action is very powerful, it targets both the individual and the society. . . . It is a tool, a springboard for a change of attitudes. The circus project in Mexico City aims to dignify11 societys image of young people in difcult situations, an image, let us recall, that is more about exclusion than integration. It also seeks to dignify the reputation of circus. All in all, the CdM programme is one means among many, selected by the CEJUV to pursue its action. At the least the dimension of partnership, whose outcome is integral to the work, nevertheless ultimately remains fully active. Those questioned acknowledge that partnership is a point of intersection between local organisations and the circus programme: Partnership . . . means giving up a bit of yourself to include something of the other, leading to the integration into CdMs cultural practices from their origin in several projects across the world. In Mexico City this means an exploration of all the symbolism attached to el da de los muertos (the Day of the Dead). Moreover the Mexican partnership has exceeded its initial membership by joining forces with a network of neighbourhoods and with other organisations whose mission is to work with young people in difcult situations. Lastly, it is difcult to distinguish those aspects of the work that affect the young people only from those that have more effect on the coaches or the milieu. There is something for everyone here, in the challenge of learning, surpassing oneself and making connections. Ten years later Machincuepa has become a model of community action based on social circus, pursuing different partnerships in total autonomy (Machincuepa circo social, 2009).

This article has focused on the signicance of CdMs action as implemented in Mexico City, and on its process, that is to say, on its inherent dynamic, which Hannah Arendts analysis of labour, work and action enables us to approach

in an original way. These three activities, essential to the human condition, correspond to the basic conditions in which life on earth is given to human beings (Arendt, 1983, p.41). In distinguishing these activities, Arendt offers a critique of modernity, which has subsumed all three into labour, itself moreover requiring an ever smaller contribution from the body. By contrast, in the circus project, labour, work and action form a kind of triptych in which each serves the others. The labour has a meaning explicit or not, with or without words leading to the creation of the work, while both work and labour at once guide and are guided by the action. The three phases combine in the individual as in the collective. Arendts vision reveals a circus labour that has a non-invasive, emancipatory form: in other words it does not dominate the other two human activities. So the goal of labour in which process is central, contrary to the modern position is not production, but the evolution of the personal self and the collective self. This personal and collective development can be seen in the young peoples increased self-esteem, the coaches recognition of these young people, the mutual concern for the safety of all and acceptance of the rules. The routine of circus exercises, small successes, opportunities for appreciation by friends and family, synergies developed within the group and interest in the world are all part of this development. As we have seen, this is meaningful labour that fulls and is fullled by those involved. Arendt deplores the gradual loss of value accorded to labour as, in her view, and that of many people encountered in Mexico City, labour cannot be separated from process. The pleasure of labour is based on effort and its reward, which are as interlinked as the production and consumption of the means of subsistence, so that happiness is a concomitant of the process itself, just as pleasure is a concomitant of the functioning of a healthy body (Arendt, 1983, p.155). Arendts notion of the opening (to work, to draw up, to shape) is, for the coaches, the encircusing12 of these young people in difcult situations and giving them a taste for labour, work and action. For Arendt there is no lasting happiness outside the prescribed cycle of painful exhaustion and pleasurable regeneration, and whatever throws

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that cycle out of balance (1983, p.155). The permanent subjection of labour to the demands of life relates, in the circus context, to the demands of safety and the many techniques that must be learned, as well as to the survival of the activity. There is something in circus labour that is constraining, rigorous and prescriptive, which nevertheless remains wrapped in a powerful meaning bound up with the body.

The circus work

The fruit of the art, though pointless in terms of modern instrumental rationality, represents a human artice that in a sense immortalises the perseverance of both coaches and young people. The great characteristic of the work lies in its potential to produce durability. The work is proof of transformation still more, for Arendt, it is a real metamorphosis, offering a higher level of belonging to the world and even the dust can burst into ames (Arendt, 1983, p.224). The social circus event organised by the Machincuepa team described above, and all the circus workshops represent a symbolic materialisation of many previous small, but important events in the overall framework of a larger work which bestows a measure of permanence and durability upon the futility of mortal life and the eeting character of human time (Arendt, 1983, p.43). The CdM programmes Mexico City project displays work, performance, show in both singular and plural manifestations as tangible expressions of labour, highpoints of the experience offered to the public, which will survive its artists. Ultimately the work is the framework, the theatre of experience and labour. Like the cultivated earth, which Arendt takes as her example, circus is not strictly a tool or an object of use, because it leaves a lasting product behind after its activity that adds to human creation (Arendt, 1983, p.189). Despite this, she explains:
the joy of living, which is that of labour, will never be found in the work: it is not to be confused with relief, the inevitably brief joy that follows accomplishment and is a concomitant of success. (Arendt, 1983, p.154)

Lastly, the circus action in Mexico City creates connections at several levels: it is individual and social, it is plural, it is an act of

engagement. For the coaches it means awareness of and concern for the transformation of individuals and the society. This engaged awareness of knowledge that is to be passed on and the meaning it contains oats above the young people in the workshops; it can be sensed in each of the circus activities and in the sum of labour they demand. It could be dened as a kind of vigilance over attitudes and behaviour, starting with oneself. This idea is reminiscent of Foucaults notion of selfconcern, which nevertheless goes far beyond oneself, being a general attitude towards oneself, others and the world. It is an attitude that underlies a readiness to observe what one thinks and what happens in thought (Foucault, 2001, p.12). Foucault stresses that it is, moreover, crucial to the choice of modes of action (Foucault, 2001). Ricoeur also regards self-concern as a reected form of concern for others (Ricoeur, 2007, p.8). He raises the idea of an ethical self, who feels bound by undertakings given to others (Ricoeur, 1996). The action of circus connects or reconnects young people with themselves through the investment they demonstrate and through the actions of others who acknowledge their skills and take care of them. This connection also has the characteristic, observed in the workshops and discussed with interviewees, of spreading to include the different individuals involved in circus. Another aspect of the action of circus is the alternation of training in a kind of equitable teaching.13 Ultimately the true action of circus seems grounded in two principles: constraint, for example, linked to safety in relation to clothing, the consumption of psychotropic drugs and the coachs instructions, and the rules involved in performing a circus technique or turn; and freedom of being and doing initially adopted by the coaches and then transmitted to the young people. All in all, circus action involves both its inherent disciplinary, even prescriptive elements and, at the same time, its power of emancipation. Arendts triptych enables us to identify the registers of an action that pushes individuals to make the move from rules to freedom, to acceptance of themselves and their condition and to personal transformation through engagement with others, leading to an action

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of social transformation. In the spirit of Arendt, for whom labour is conditioned by human life itself, by belonging to the world and action by plurality, the condition of engagement, in the work itself, which is fundamental to the circus approach, can be understood in terms of recognition: the recognition of a young persons worth and role as actor; of the group as a source of energy; of circus as a transverse language of action; of the partner as expert; of theoretical and empirical difference and of the role this difference plays in understanding a phenomenon. In retrospect, what emerges from Hannah Arendts triptych as the key idea in the approach of the CdM programme is recognition. Labour is recognised as a living, constructive motor force, the work is recognised as proof of transformation, and circus action is recognised as engagement in the world with others, as a generator of multiple connections. Among these connections we should stress the place and role of both young people and the partners in the CdM programme as citizens of a world that goes beyond their respective settings. Through the building of human bridges their actions and creations cross borders while constantly fuelling the circus programme. Meanwhile the CEJUV, through the medium of Machincuepa and the network it contributes, demonstrates citizenship in undertaking to mobilise others and bring them together. This is part of a vast movement for the social integration of young people in difcult situations and, more broadly, social cohesion on an international scale which, moreover, offers very rich seams of research. The development of the CdM programme, as distinct from more classical approaches, and the circus that inspires it, are much more than working tools. From an Arendtian perspective, their way of understanding the phenomenon of young people in difcult situations in global terms, while never losing sight of the individual as a whole being, reect an action that seems comfortable with paradoxes. Although the projects complexity on the ground gives rise to recurrent doubts among the circus smugglers, it constantly fuels the thinking in which all those involved are engaged with the exception of the young people, who are simply happy to experience their circus.

In the Mexican context the CdM programme sheds new light on what can be regarded as a renewal of action around young people in difcult situations. It raises the question, both delicate and fascinating, of the legitimacy of looking at an action in terms of its universal dimensions. In reality, the strength of circus as an action lies in its capacity to be a universal in the local and to reveal the dynamism of the particular in the collective. Imbued with the other two aspects associated with it the representations of young people in difcult situations and the theoretical bases underlying actions the action has a signicance that transcends the gesture, in which doing it becomes one of the expressions (Leclercq, 2000; Rivard, 2007). The CdMs action is revealed to be dialogical and transdisciplinary in its contribution to the understanding of the interpenetration of different logics which combine, work together and confront themselves without, however, merging altogether, thereby maintaining a duality within unity (Morin, 1998, 2004, 2005; Nicolescu, 1996, 2002), and affording a degree of reconciliation between antagonistic elements including prescription and emancipation, the arts and business, tradition and innovation, rules and freedom. On a global scale the experience of CdMs circus-related social action and teaching appears as both reection and echo, agent and product of the alternative trend now emerging in relation to young people in difcult situations. This trend proposes a new vision of these young people and the world to which they belong and also new approaches that impact on both, renewing the logic of action, its aims and methods. All these things are shifting and liable to change. The circus proposal demonstrated a concern to maintain a balance between past, present and future. What is in play the term is deliberately chosen in the various activities of circus is a constant reappropriation, reminiscent of tightrope walking, an always delicate, shifting balance in which risk and the tension it generates are all part of the pleasure.14 Hannah Arendts discussion of human activities, while dignifying the notion of labour by attending to its noble function in service of the work and action,

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and in valuing personal engagement that it involves, also recalls the importance of time and history. In reality CdM and its supporters, artists and thinkers, look at young people in difcult situations in a different way from the prevailing stance in the international community. Based on values that accept shifts, paradoxes and the power of connection, it suggests to those concerned a way of approaching young people in a spirit of play, making them into active subjects. The thousands of people engaged in the programme thus at the same time become transmitters of circus, true builders of bridges across borders. The CdM programme demonstrates that it is possible to build something positive with young people on the fringes of society; a work can be constructed in which all those involved can give, take and pass something on. To borrow the words of an instructor, the magic is when it works. Lastly, the present article opens up theoretical perspectives that suggest a different understanding of the circus programme. These encourage us to go further, exploring new worlds of understanding in relation to the gift, recognition, physical experience and engagement (Boudreault, 2004). Where the perspective

used in this study is concerned, a global understanding of the circus programme leaves aspects specic to each of the Mexico City barrios in the shadows. Circus action with young people in difcult situations would benet from data offering a more precise picture of specicities on the ground and revealing the possibilities and methods for the cultural tailoring of approaches such as that of CdM. The transformation of the young people occurs through and in an evolution of the way they are seen by the others, and particularly adults. The young people become actors of their own lives, through their acceptance of the required discipline of labour and imposed rules, through their experience of pride discovered or rediscovered through the work realised and through their recognition of the strength of their connection to others. This transformation of individuals opens the way to a transformation of society. Finally, in its Mexican project, CdM does not conne itself to seeking change, it is the site of change. The international circus programme thus plays a signicant role within the emerging alternative trend and the shift away from the classic paradigm. Translated from French

This article was written in the context of a doctoral thesis in Applied Human Sciences at the University of Montreal. Further details of the themes advanced here are available in Rivard (2007). The authors would like to thank the actors of the partner organisation CEJUV in Mexico City, and particularly those directly involved in the circus workshops leaders, programme heads, circus instructors and managers, and Elvia Taracena mez Ibarra for and Neith Ga their invaluable contribution on the ground, as well as Claire Chamberland and Deena White for their stimulating comments at different points in the writing of the present article. These work received nancial support from the Fonds pour la formation de ` la rechercheurs et laide a cherche, three different grant programmes from the University of Montreal, the Fondation Desjardins, the Institut Universitaire sur les Jeunes en of the Centre JeuDifculte bec and from the nesse Que Quebec governments programme of nancial assistance for students.

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1. This notion, looked at from an international perspective, includes the categories of Children in especially difcult circumstances and the more recently dened Children in need of special protection promoted by UNICEF (Ennew, 2000; UNICEF, 2002, 2008), and also what are known as street children, who make up a large part of it (Ennew, 2000, 2003; UNCHS, 2000) and are described here as children and young people on the streets. Among the particularly difcult circumstances experienced by a growing number of children and young people across the world we should mention the instability of some states, extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS, armed conict, discrimination on grounds of ethnicity, sex and disability, the position of refugees, children suffering from learning disabilities or organised violence and those living and working in the street (UNICEF, 2006). 2. Among the Atikamekw for example, they are called helpers. huatl is a prehispanic 3. Na language in which machincuepa means pirouette or acrobatics (Real Academia Espan ola, 2007; Mart nez, 2007). 4. This is not true of all projects in the programme. 5. The country has an industrial and commercial base in some ways comparable to that of the large industrialised countries, with a population of over 100 million and a GDP ranked 10th in the world economy. It has been a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade since 1986 and joined the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1994. However, it has characteristics of a developing country (poverty, social and regional inequalities, an important informal economy, inadequacies in the areas of education and health (France diplomatie, 2007). 6. Parer means ensuring the safety of a comrade or helping them carry out an exercise (Dagenais et al., 1999, p.12). 7. This is the case of a young employee of the CEJUV, who had been watching the workshop taking place in the organisations inner courtyard. Invited by the instructor to enjoy herself, some trousers were found for her and she got up on stilts for the rst time ever, walking around almost with ease, to everyones great surprise. 8. Devil sticks consist of a stick that is kept upright, hit and made to spin with two rough sticks. 9. Literally, First social circus gathering, which took place on 3, 4 and 5 November 2000. 10. This expression is used all the time by CEJUV personnel. 11. From dignicar. This highly eloquent term is often used by Mexican group leaders. Literally it means making worthy, which corresponds to the meaning given to it by the actors. 12. This term is used on the ofcial site of the Cirque du Soleil encircus yourself. 13. This expression was suggested by the person who validated the themes drawn out of the raw data during the analysis. Since then a few references have been found for the notion of equitable teaching, called, for example actualising pedagogy (pedagogie actualisante) at the Faculty of Education Sciences of the University of Moncton. It is a vision of education based on personal development, social justice and peace. . . . For actualising pedagogy to occur, it must be anchored in values of equity (Gaudet and Lapointe, 2002). 14. In the same spirit and with similar inspiration, the reader is invited to read the wonderful book by Philippe Petit (1997) which shows the art of lling and lighting up the Void, a void between two towers, two sides of a ravine, two planets or the space between the heart and the mind (1997, book jacket).

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